WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Lynne Ramsey's Morvern Callar is an odd beast. An adaptation of the introspective novel by Alan Warner, Morvern Callar the film attempts a similar introspection by giving us not much more than the quiet turmoil of the title character's face. Long moments of this film are spent in stillness, as we are left to divine Morvern's psychology by how she reacts to what happens to her outwardly. In the hands of the wrong actress, the film would implode, but Samantha Morton brings a subtle intensity to the role that brings Morvern Callar to life.
Morvern is a young supermarket checker dating a novelist, James, who has just finished his first book. Unfortunately, having concluded the novel, he has decided to commit suicide. We learn of his death in the film's first scene, and we also learn how the film is going to tell its story: For long minutes, the camera just watches Morvern inside the tragedy, as the shock gives way to action, as her mind gradually begins to work again. He has left a suicide note, essentially giving her the book as well as the money remaining in his bank account. She spends long, tortuous moments thinking about what to do, and finally she decides to act as if nothing has happened, to go on with her life. The body remains on the floor as Morvern parties with her friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott). Eventually, the two wander away from Scotland on a meandering vacation to Spain, but most of the time, we're left watching Morvern's face, trying to understand her. A key element to the film is a mix tape that James has left Morvern as a Christmas present—it plays over the introspective moments and gives some life to the otherwise static scenes.
You might find yourself frustrated watching Morvern Callar, by its silence and by its refusal to adhere to any kind of traditional narrative. You might yearn for a voice-over narration from somebody, anybody, and I admit to wanting some kind of guidance at certain points. But something amazing happens by the end of the film: You feel you've come to know Morvern Callar intimately, better than you might have had she talked to you directly. You've shared countless silent moments of grief and shock, and you've healed with her, and you've been disturbed by the blankness of her face.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Palm Pictures presents Morvern Callar in a pretty good anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. The good news is that the level of detail is above average. However, background detail suffers under an ever-present grain or haze. Colors seem drab and mostly tend toward yellow. Other scenes offer a much more vivid and colorful look, leading me to believe that the yellow, drab look is an intentional aspect of the palette. Blacks are reasonably deep. The print is fairly clean but marred by occasional specks and dirt. I noticed some edge halos, but nothing too distracting.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc offers both a stereo mix and a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. I listened to the surround mix. This is not exactly an aggressive soundtrack, but it does offer good separation across the front. Dialog is clean and free of distortion, but it often seems dwarfed by the power of the frequent musical interludes, which are loud and fill the entire room. There are also some infrequent rear effects, which can be startling but somewhat gimmicky.
The soundtrack has a flaw that some might consider major and others might consider bearable. At the point of the layer change, about halfway through the film, the sound shifts just out of sync for the remainder of the movie. It's subtle, and you might be able to live with it. But once you know the problem is there (and now you do), it'll bug you.
The disc offers no subtitles, which might have helped with some of the obscure accents.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The highlight of the meager extras on this disc is a series of short Interviews with the lead actresses and the director. Samantha Morton talks for 2 minutes about her take on the character and her casting. Kathleen McDermott talks for 90 seconds about her character and working with Samantha Morton. And director/writer Lynne Ramsey talks for 1 minute about making the film and casting. These snippets are advertised as "unedited," but they're frustratingly brief and woefully incomplete.
You also get the Trailer for Morvern Callar, in grainy non-anamorphic widescreen. There's also a selection of Palm Previews, for The Work of Director Spike Jonze, The Work of Director Chris Cunningham, The Work of Director Michel Gondry, Demonlover, Stoked, and The Revenge of the Robots.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
An interesting, even experimental film, that works in large part to its lead actress, Morvern Callar is at least worth a rental. I'm not sure it would be the kind of film you would rewatch, but it has a quiet power and grace. The DVD's image and sound quality are average, and the extras are a notch below that. Still, this is a film worth your time. Give it a try.